Head of state: René Préval
Head of government: Jacques Edouard Alexis
Capital: Port-au-Prince
Population: 6.6 million
Official languages: French, Creole
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
1999 treaty ratifications/signatures: Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court

The climate of respect for human rights established since Haiti's 1994 emergence from de facto military government was dealt a series of blows in 1999. The five-year-old police force, the Police nationale d'Haïti (PNH) , Haitian National Police, committed relatively few abuses in dealing with protests in the run-up to elections in the year 2000. However, some officers were implicated in killings in disputed circumstances, at times suggesting possible extrajudicial execution, as well as other serious human rights violations. In spite of some efforts to strengthen the justice system, 1999 witnessed a growing backlog of untried cases and accusations of corruption and lack of independence. The body responsible for overseeing the elections was put into place; some electoral officials were subject to what appeared to be politically motivated threats and intimidation. Several public figures were attacked by unidentified armed assailants during 1999.


After nearly two years of political paralysis, dating from 1997 allegations of electoral fraud and the resignation of the then Prime Minister, Parliament appointed Jacques Edouard Alexis as Prime Minister. However, after President René Préval failed to extend the Parliament's mandate when it expired on 11 January, his appointment was never ratified. Without a Parliament, President Préval essentially ruled by decree throughout 1999. In the absence of this key element in Haiti's system of checks and balances, state institutions were perceived as ever more vulnerable to outside interests. Both the police and judiciary came under increasing pressure from external sectors apparently seeking to undermine their independence and impartiality, thereby diminishing their effectiveness during the run-up to elections. There was a marked growth in armed crime, stemming partly from ongoing economic crisis in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, and partly from the drug trade and the accompanying increase in accessibility of firearms. The rising crime rate added to the pressure on institutions. As the year ended, the mandates of the UN police mission and the UN/Organization of American States (OAS) human rights mission were extended until mid-March 2000.

Haitian National Police

The PNH was created in 1995 to replace the discredited armed forces, and has been generally commended for professional behaviour in the face of increasing pressures. However, 1999 saw a rise in killings by the police in disputed circumstances, in some cases suggesting that they were extrajudicial executions, as well as ill-treatment of criminal suspects by police during or following arrest. The UN/OAS human rights mission, the International Civilian Mission in Haiti (MICIVIH), reported 66 killings apparently involving police in 1999, up from 31 in 1998. In its final observations in August, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern about violations by the PNH.

  • On 28 May, 11 residents of the Carrefourfeuilles area of Port-au-Prince were shot dead by police in circumstances suggesting that they were summarily executed. Police claimed that three of them had been killed in a shoot-out, but witnesses testified that police shot the men while they were in custody and lying on the ground. Police then reportedly arrested eight others. Family members and witnesses who saw the bodies in the city morgue stated that 10 of the 11 had been shot once in the head, and one of them in the heart.

The Minister of Justice immediately announced the opening of a three-person commission of inquiry into the killings, and the PNH Inspector General announced that an internal investigation had been opened as well. By the end of 1999, no findings had been made public but eight police officers suspected of involvement were detained, including the Commissioner of Port-au-Prince following his arrest in the Dominican Republic. Following the arrests, MICIVIH reported that "disappearances", summary executions and police killings, which had reached an unprecedented peak in previous months, decreased.

  • In July the bodies of eight people were found in Titanyen, outside Port-au-Prince. In what would be the first alleged "disappearance" since the inception of the PNH, the bodies were alleged to be those of eight young criminal suspects last seen in custody of the police. A reported eyewitness was interviewed by the public prosecutor's office, and an internal police investigation was opened. However, no results had been made public by the end of 1999.

External pressures on the police increased markedly in 1999, in part from an apparently politically motivated campaign to undermine the independence and impartiality of the force, culminating in the October resignation of the Secretary of State for Public Security, Robert Manuel. Jean Lamy, a PNH adviser named as a possible replacement, was assassinated the next day; and the head of the Judicial Police charged with investigating the killing himself escaped an attempted shooting shortly thereafter. PNH Director Pierre Denizé was forced to flee the funeral of Jean Lamy on 16 October when protesters claiming to be partisans of Fanmi Lavalas, the party of former President Aristide, violently disrupted the ceremony.

The Inspector General continued to investigate alleged abusive behaviour by police, with mixed results. The PNH reported that 145 police officers were dismissed between January and October 1999, seven of them for involvement in human rights violations. Some serious cases remained unpunished. Among these were officers reportedly involved repeatedly in beatings of detainees. Only a handful of cases were prosecuted through the justice system, in most instances apparently because of judicial inaction rather than police resistance.

Judicial system

Five years after the return to constitutional order, the justice system remained largely dysfunctional. Efforts since 1994 to reform the judicial system were generally piecemeal and intermittent, despite widespread recognition of its inadequate independence, strength and resources. Sources in Haiti attributed frequent "popular justice" killings of suspected criminals to lack of faith in the judicial process.

Basic safeguards such as the guarantee of judicial review within 48 hours of arrest were often not respected and the timeframe for judicial decision on cases was systematically flouted. Haitian and UN authorities indicated that four fifths of the roughly 3,800 detainees in Haitian prisons and police stations at the end of 1999 had not been tried; nearly a third of all detainees had been waiting for trial for more than one year.

The judicial system's failings appeared most prevalent in cases with perceived political or state security elements. Particularly in sensitive cases, release orders issued by judges were ignored by public prosecutors, resulting in continued, and illegal, detention. The Minister of Justice named a Commission to address this issue and told AI delegates in October that the Commission had submitted its final report. However, its results were apparently not made public.

The Ministry of Justice undertook a series of short- and medium-term initiatives to improve the situation. After the appointment of a new Minister in March 1999, measures were taken to strengthen the Ecole de la Magistrature, judicial training institute; to ensure the attendance of judges; and to fight corruption. The Ministry also set up working groups of donors and Haitian and international legal experts to address issues such as prison overcrowding and the establishment of a legal aid system.

  • Nine officers of the disbanded armed forces were held for 15 months after protesting against non-payment of their pensions. Although they were charged with state security offences, there was reportedly no evidence substantiating the charges and no record of any investigation into the charges. They were released only after joining a hunger strike begun in September by long-term detainees in the National Penitentiary to press for action on their cases. One of the hunger strikers was Evans François, brother of Michel François, chief of police under the military government. Evans François was imprisoned in April 1996, although there was reportedly no evidence on file and no record of any investigation. He reportedly suffered a stroke during the hunger strike. The public prosecutor released him and 20 other long-term detainees, justifying her decision on humanitarian grounds.

Detention issues

The failings of the justice system contributed to overcrowding within prisons, which are run by the prison administration, Direction de l'administration pénitentiaire, a branch of the PNH. Overcrowding contributed to a rise in tension between guards and detainees, increasing the risk of abuses. It also created conditions that in some instances constituted cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment: these included insufficient ventilation and light, acute shortage of beds and mattresses and lack of medical attention. There were numerous cases of serious malnutrition because of food shortages; the prison authorities stated that they lacked resources to provide inmates with the requisite two meals per day.

While there was no indication of systematic ill-treatment, 1999 saw several serious incidents in which prison guards beat detainees, in most cases as punishment. In Les Cayes, two inmates were allegedly beaten by prison guards following an escape attempt in July. This provoked a riot by other inmates, some of whom were reportedly beaten in retribution after their transfer to another prison. In Hinche, detainees reported being teargassed following an escape attempt in September. Those involved in the escape attempt and subsequent aggression against a prison guard were reportedly handcuffed and beaten while lying on the ground, before being transferred.

In June, the prison administration publicly released the internal guidelines for prisons, covering such issues as record-keeping, detention conditions and disciplinary guidelines. Haitian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) set up a prison observation network, to carry out prison monitoring across the country.

Human rights defenders

AI was concerned about the safety of human rights defenders in Haiti, who appeared to be at risk of abuse for denouncing political and other violence and misconduct. A leaflet containing threats against member organizations of the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations was found at the Platform's offices on 1 March. On 8 March Pierre Espérance, director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights in Port-au-Prince and treasurer of the Platform, was wounded in an attack by unidentified gunmen in Port-au-Prince. In early June leaflets containing threats against specific human rights activists and groups were again delivered to several organizations. The organizations continued to carry out their work and AI took steps through its human rights defenders program to help prevent further incidents.

The Office de la protection du citoyen, Human Rights Ombudsman, expanded its presence in 1999, opening its first field office, in Gonaïves.


During the coup that deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991, and for the next three years of de facto rule, Haitian military and paramilitary forces committed numerous serious human rights violations. Haitian NGOs applied increasing pressure on the government to investigate violations, bring perpetrators to justice, and make reparation to victims or their families. However, an extensive report published by MICIVIH in September pointed to a lack of political will on the part of the state to address impunity. For example, the government had not yet systematically implemented the recommendations of the 1995 report of the Commission nationale de vérité et justice, National Truth and Justice Commission.

One exception was the 1994 Raboteau massacre case, which advanced significantly in 1999 with the completion of the examining judge's trial order and the prosecutor's brief. Formal charges were brought against 22 defendants, most of whom appealed. The legal action against eight others arrested for investigation was dismissed. At the end of 1999 the eight were still, illegally, in detention, as were seven defendants against whom the state prosecutor had recommended dropping charges. The state prosecutor responsible for the case was dismissed, to the approval of local victims' groups which had questioned his credibility. Efforts were under way to address the logistical and organizational demands of such a large trial.

Haitian NGOs were preparing for an international conference on impunity in 2000, proposed during the April 1999 visit of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel.

AI country visit

AI delegates visited Haiti for three weeks in October, meeting a range of government officials, other authorities and members of diverse sectors of civil society.

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